Bashar Assad: Dead man walking

Washington Watch: Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has only himself to blame as he heads for history’s garbage heap.

Syrian President Assad at Id al-Adha prayers 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian President Assad at Id al-Adha prayers 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has only himself to blame as he heads for history’s garbage heap.
The British-educated eye doctor came to office among high hopes that he meant what he said about political, economic and social reform to bring his country into the 21st century. At home and abroad he’d been nicknamed “The Hope.”
A more appropriate moniker would have been “The Disappointment” or “The Disaster.” He quickly fell under the influence of his father’s old guard and succumbed to fear that reform was a sign of weakness his enemies could pounce upon. He lacked the leadership, political cunning and ability of his father, but successfully emulated the worst of his father’s attributes – brutality, repression and corruption.
Like his father and for his own parochial reasons he kept the border with Israel quiet, although, also like his father, he continued to arm and encourage Hezbollah and other terrorists.
He also fell under the influence of the Iranians, who see regional instability as essential to their goals.
Turkey’s new Islamist government quickly embraced Bashar as part of its goal of becoming a dominant player in the Muslim Middle East and poking its thumb in the eyes of the West, especially those uppity White European Christians who wouldn’t let a Muslim country join their exclusive EU country club. But Bashar has turned Turkey against him and now risks going to war with his much stronger neighbor. He also has lost his wealthy benefactors in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Against the backdrop of the Arab uprising in early 2011, Assad managed to turn peaceful demonstrations into a violent civil war. He spoke of reform but had no intention of delivering, and as the calls for change grew he unleashed gangs of thugs, his army and even his air force.
He has slaughtered tens of thousands of unarmed Syrian civilians, wounded many times that number and sent even more fleeing to neighboring countries.
While most countries have called for him to step down, Russia and China still protect him with their UN vetoes, because they want to play spoiler in the region against the West and because the last thing they want their folks back home to see is their own government blessing a popular uprising against a brutal dictatorship. It’s not good for business.
Every day the reports of his brutality and slaughter of civilians get worse. Recently his government threatened to use chemical weapons – which it previously denied even having – on its own people.
And as Assad slips – too slowly – from power it appears increasingly possible his country will be devoured by tribal and sectarian warfare, and there’s a very real chance that the Islamists, notably the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliates of al-Qaida, could rise to power.
Britain, France and Turkey have recognized the newly-formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and the Obama administration has called it “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people” but said it is withholding military support until it is convinced the group “is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.”
The Americans and Europeans are reluctant to lift their embargo on heavy arms out of fear the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists in the anti-Assad forces. They also are concerned about extensive human rights abuses by some rebel factions, including public summary executions of prisoners.
Obama’s dilemma is there’s no way of knowing whether the next regime will be much different. That was driven home in the past week by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s power grab and move to impose an Islamist dictatorship.
Another complicating factor came when a dozen or so Syrian Islamist factions, including Jabhat al-Nursra, a particularly violent group with ties to al-Qaeda, and foreign jihadists, rejected the coalition and announced they were immediately establishing an Islamic state in Aleppo, the nation’s commercial center.
That is Israel’s quandary: the feeling in Jerusalem is better the enemy you known than the one you don’t.
“We don’t know if the alternative will be any better,” said Dan Schueftan, a professor at Haifa University and a visiting professor at Georgetown University.
“There is no foreseeable outcome that is worth investing in.”
Israel has seen the Syrian uprising explode along the Golan Heights as shells have landed across its border, but it hasn’t always been clear whether they came from government forces or the opposition. Israel fired back and Damascus sent a message saying the fire was accidental and that it wasn’t interested in any conflict with the Jewish state.
Israel has been anxious to stay out of the conflict, concerned that Assad may try to provoke a battle with it as a diversion from his domestic uprising. The Netanyahu government has joined the other nations calling for Assad to leave and it has offered humanitarian aid, food and medicine to the Syrian people.
When Assad ultimately exits, it will most likely be when the Ba’ath party or the military decide it’s time.
If he is lucky he’ll go to jail, maybe in Damascus or in The Hague; if he’s really lucky he will go somewhere else where he can have a reunion with the billions he looted from his people. But if there is justice he’ll go directly to Hell, not passing Go or collecting his $200.
He could have avoided it all by recognizing the course history was taking in his region instead of being trampled by it. He had ample warning, advice and opportunity. But like too many dictators, he knew better. And now it’s too late.
©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield omfield